Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 571
Context: Marcus Portius (234–149 B.C.), called Cato the Censor and Cato the Elder to distinguish him from his grandson, the Stoic philosopher, was given the name of Cato, or Wise Man, because of the admiration of his fellow citizens. He was a soldier who when he was only seventeen fought...
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Context: Marcus Portius (234–149 B.C.), called Cato the Censor and Cato the Elder to distinguish him from his grandson, the Stoic philosopher, was given the name of Cato, or Wise Man, because of the admiration of his fellow citizens. He was a soldier who when he was only seventeen fought against Hannibal. Rising in the political world, he was consul in 195 B.C., and in 187, censor, the official with rights to inquire into the lives and morals of Rome's citizens, and punish disorders and immorality. He spent his life trying to restore what he thought were the morals and simplicity of the old days. Sent on a diplomatic mission to Carthage, he returned convinced that that city-state was a danger to Rome and should be destroyed. Carthage, near modern Tunis, was supposedly built by Dido on the site of old Utica. By the fifth century B.C. it was gaining power in the Mediterranean and, under Hannibal, it became very strong. Rome challenged it in the third century in the Punic Wars, so-called because Rome called the Phoenicians "Poeni." The First Punic War ended with Carthage's loss of Sicily. In the Second Punic War, Fabio and Scipio Africanus defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama (202 B.C.). Still because of its commercial power, many Romans felt it should be razed and its streets sprinkled with salt. Chief advocate was Cato the Censor, who ended all his speeches in the Senate, regardless of their topic, with the words: "Ceterum, censeo, Carthaginem esse Delendam" (For the rest, I vote that Carthage should be destroyed). Plutarch repeats Cato's demands in slightly different words. Plutarch, the biographer, was born in Greece, but after study in Athens visited Rome, where he probably wrote most of his works. One was Parallel Lives, in which he linked twenty-three great Greeks with their Roman counterparts, then added other biographies, including that of Cato. Plutarch was a moralist. His interest in noteworthy men of the past was in what they could teach about morality. By their deeds, rather than by the social and historical period in which they were involved, he wanted them judged, and he was not above occasional distortion of history to prove his point. Ethics ranked high in his thoughts: "Generosity brings reward as arrogance earns punishment." Did he have Cato's hatred of Carthage in mind when he wrote that "no beast is more savage than a man possessed with power added to his rage?" Cato, by continually preaching the destruction of Carthage, brought on the Third Punic War (149–146 B.C.) that completely ended its existence at the hands of an army under the command of the son of the Scipio who had proclaimed his belief that it should be left standing. Speaking of Cato the Censor, said Plutarch:
It is said that at the conclusion of his speech he shook the lap of his gown, and purposely dropped some Libyan figs; and when he found that the Senators admired them for their size and beauty, he told them, that the country where they grew was but three days' sail from Rome. But what was a stronger instance of his enmity to Carthage, he never gave his opinion in the Senate upon any other point whatever, without adding DELENDA EST CARTHAGO, Carthage must be destroyed. Scipio made a point to mention the contrary, and concluded his speeches: "And my opinion is, that Carthage should be left standing."